How New Jersey Is Working To Turn Kindergartners Into Climate Activists

Blue state's new Climate Change Education office will push students to become 'climate literate leaders'

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D.) / Getty Images
September 30, 2023

New Jersey Democratic governor Phil Murphy unveiled a taxpayer-funded office that aims to turn public school students into "climate leaders," an effort that includes a call for kindergartners to donate to environmental groups.

Murphy on Tuesday announced the formation of the state's Office of Climate Change Education, which will work to cultivate the "next generation of climate leaders" through New Jersey public schools. That effort will see the office steer millions in public money to implement the state's Climate Change Education standards, which require public schools to infuse climate-focused instruction into most subjects taught at every grade level. The standards, according to the New Jersey Department of Education, call on kindergarten teachers to encourage their students to join the "fight against climate change," including by "making donations."

Murphy's announcement reflects a growing push from prominent Democrats to use taxpayer cash to inspire young people—both in America and abroad—to join the fight against the "climate crisis." The Biden administration, for example, has allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding to create "curricular materials" that spur K-12 students to become "climate justice action researchers and change agents," the Washington Free Beacon reported in June. President Joe Biden's U.S. Agency for International Development has also touted plans to spend billions supporting "behavior change and communications campaigns" that "encourage youth's active participation" in the climate movement.

Murphy, whose office did not return a request for comment, has advanced an array of controversial climate measures since becoming governor of New Jersey in 2018.

In 2020, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to mandate its public school teachers to incorporate climate change instruction at every grade level. The topic also must be included in most subjects, including seemingly unrelated ones. In addition to its call for kindergartners to make climate "donations," the state's climate education standards examine "climate change as a topic for dance," ask students to examine climate-related art, and call on students to "name and label tangible cultural products associated with climate change."

"In the midst of some of the worst climate related events that our country has ever faced, New Jersey is taking a proactive stance in combating climate change, and education is the foundation of our efforts," Murphy said in his Tuesday announcement.

Beyond education, Murphy in July unveiled a proposal to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, a policy that most voters in blue New Jersey oppose, according to a Public Opinion Strategies Poll conducted in August. Murphy in July also signed a bill providing up to $1 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies to foreign green energy company Orsted, which plans to build a wind farm off the coast of Atlantic City.

That project, however, has attracted backlash. New Jersey's Division of Rate Council, the independent group that represents New Jersey ratepayers, in June revealed that the wind farm will lead to increased utility costs. Months later, in September, Orsted announced that it may need to scrap the project altogether, citing supply chain problems and other issues that the company says may cause it to take a $2.3 billion hit to its American portfolio.

Murphy himself has acknowledged the "significant" energy costs associated with the project, writing in a September letter to Biden that New Jersey's "near-term" offshore wind projects may fail without federal intervention.

"Instead of continued price declines, offshore wind faces cost increases in orders of magnitude that threaten States' ability to make purchasing decisions," the letter said. "Without federal action, offshore wind deployment in the U.S. is at serious risk of stalling because States' ratepayers may be unable to absorb these significant new costs alone."